My name is Abigail Williams, and I am a murdereress, an adulterer, and a fool. This is my story. I cannot bear to ask for your forgiveness for what I have done, but I would ask that you would hear my confessions, read my account, before you judge me. I beg you believe me when I say that all I have recorded here is truth, as I know it to be. Please, listen. It is all I ask, and my tale is not long. My name is Abigail Williams, and I have always loved the ocean.

I have always loved the ocean.

Living in Salem, it has always been close by; a steadiness, a pulsing, a wild raging thing trapped only by the confines of the sand and the tides, behind my eyelids when I blink. The ocean is free and powerful and strong and ever-changing even in its sameness.

The ocean is everything I find myself wishing for.

And the ocean is the exact color of John Proctor's eyes.

I began looking for a place outside my Uncle Parris' house when I was just newly seventeen. It was what was expected of girls; speak not, walk softly, work hard. These were the things that were supposed to make us happy. I never understood what happy was, not then. I suppose I was happy when my parents were alive, but my memory blurs, cloudy, and I cannot remember. I cannot even remember the feeling of my father's hand, the sound of my mother's voice. It is a sin, I know, to forget so, Lord save me. Happy for me then was what you were not supposed to have, or think, or do. Happy was laughing with the other girls, happy was running and losing your bonnet, or jumping out of a tree or singing so loudly you could hear nothing else. Happy was stolen moments, snatched whenever you could find them and locked away in a corner of your heart. Happy was looking a man straight in the eye and not looking away first.

And that was how I found John Proctor and my position as his servant.

⁶⁶⁶

John Proctor was a well-known man, a respected, straight-forward, honest man of great standing in Salem. My uncle hated him, although he would never say such a thing. Hate is a sin, Lord save me. But he did hate him, because John Proctor was all the things he never was and never could be. When I was offered the position, Elizabeth Proctor was ill. She was always ill, it seemed, and never with her husband, never out in the sun or the air at all. I saw her only briefly at church before, and she always seemed so cold that she made me shiver, colder than ice, colder than bone. But my uncle could not say no to John Proctor, especially as his wife was sickly. I could not say no either. I had no choice, because I never had a choice.

I was too busy watching the waves crash in Mr. Proctor's eyes to even protest.

Leaving my uncle's house was not how I had expected. He did not think of me often, less than he thought about anyone else; he even spoke more to his slave Tituba than I, if just to give her an order. It was my little cousin Betty who was the light of his life. My uncle could never speak his love, never show it the way most others could, not even to my aunt when she still lived. But he loved Betty still. It was Uncle Parris who taught her to say her prayers, giving her the correct words to say. It was Uncle Parris who left hair ribbons on her doorknob for her to find, despite what he told her. And when Betty woke at night, crying for her mother or from a nightmare, although Tituba and I wiped her brow and sang her songs and talked her back to sleep, it was Uncle Parris who lit five candles for each corner of her room and the doorway to keep out the dark, leaving his Bible on the floor to the hold door wide so that it could not blow shut and frighten her. I did not understand this, not then, how he could be so silent and cold and love her still. I cannot keep love inside of me; whatever I feel shows across me from my face to the tips of my toes. It was months later, when I stole money from my uncle's safe box, that I truly understood. At a time when the town stood strongly against my uncle and he was filled with fear, there were five candle stubs on the ground and Betty's Bible at his door.

True, it was not me he loved, but sometimes when we were alone my uncle would tell me that I looked like my mother. I thought this might be a compliment, when I was young and determined to hear it in that manner, but when I reflect back on it now, I remember a strange expression in his eyes, a worry, an admiration, a fear. I do not know what he saw when he looked at me, what he read in my dark eyes. Sometimes I wish very much I had had a chance to ask him.

My uncle did not love me, and when I left he was not there. It was his absence that surprised me, although it should not have. That morning, before he left for the church, he simply told me to pray everyday and do whatever I was told to do without complaint. I did not even have a time to look at him properly before he was gone. No matter how hard I have tried, it is that image that comes to mind when I try now to bring his face to my memory: the empty air where he had stood an instant before, still holding his shape like a reflection in water. There is no face for me to remember.

Betty cried and clung to my skirts when I left her, but I promised I would bring her a seashell for her very own. I had been told the Proctors' farmhouse was somewhat near the ocean, and I had not seen the shoreline for far too long. Tituba, too, was sad to see me gone. Both outcasts, blots on the neat paper that my uncle kept as his idea of the world, we had become allies, and a form of friends. As a slave, she had no rights, and as an orphan, I was barely one step above her position. It was not spoken of in town, considered an indecent subject, but I was as powerless as any woman and then some. I had no prospects in life beyond this job as the Proctors' servant; this was the most I had to hope for in this life. It was a bitter fact to swallow.

Right before I got into the wagon to leave the center of Salem, Tituba ran forward from the porch, apron flapping, and seized my face between her hands. Her fingers were long and warm and the chocolate brown of her eyes held me still. "Miss Abby," she murmured, low and fast and insistent as the wagon driver shifted, "Miss Abby, you listen to Tituba now. Listen hard. I been having dreams of you. Hold on to your heart, Miss Abby, or much pain will be coming your way."

I did not have time to answer her. The driver pulled away and we were gone. I watched my uncle's house until I could barely see it, until Betty was just a tiny white dot on the porch and Tituba a smear of darkness in the street.

⁶⁶⁶

It was deep night when we first came upon the Proctors' farmhouse. The moon had gone behind the clouds, and the dark shapes of the trees at the edges of the fields clawed the sky like grotesque hands, reaching for something that the heavens could not offer. I could not so much as hear the ocean over the chill wind. Mrs. Proctor was a shape against the candlelight beyond her at the doorway; it was impossible to see any feature on her but the black outline she presented. The driver, who had not spoken a word to me, did not look at me as I left the wagon. Only the horse watched me walk the long path to the house. And even he was gone before I reached the door.

Mrs. Proctor asked me in, softly, told me where I was to go inside the house, softly, ordered me on what I was to do tomorrow, softly, and then was gone, softly, as though she had never been, leaving me in the main room, alone with the firelight and crawling shadows in the corners. I knew I was to go into the room she had shown to me, knew I should not stay here where I was, but the hallway where Mrs. Proctor had disappeared was darker than a hole and shapes and monsters seemed to rise out of the dark, stretching from the edges of the room, towards me, reaching, strangling fingers, cold…

I sunk down in front of the fire, so close that the ash smeared on my skirts and leaping sparks singed my arms. The dark had always frightened me a little, though I kept that fear inside myself, locked within my heart. It was in the darkness that I thought I could hear my mother's dieing shriek, and the sound, all I had of her, haunted me. And this dark…this dark was deeper than I had ever known, consuming me. This life, that I had walked into alone, was all I had, all I ever would have. As long as I would live, this farmhouse and the surrounding fields would be all there was for me. There would be baking for the Proctors' and washing their sons’ dirty clothes and mending and the snows in the winter, the suns of spring…and that was all, the future laid bare before me. At most, if the stars were in my favor, I would be honored with a cold marriage, one barren of love to some terrible man who I could not stand to look at, to be near. I moved even closer to the fire, until the heat was a living thing inside of me.

A voice woke me from my doze hours later.

I jumped to my feet so fast I scraped my elbow, terrified. I could not see what had come upon me; it stood outside of the ring of light from the fire. A hand seized my arm like a claw, jerking me up and towards the shadows. Something inside of my mind snapped, thoughts unraveling. I thought of my uncle’s sermons on the monsters from hell, demon animals. My mother screamed inside my head, under Tituba’s urgent words, “Hold on to your heart…” I tore my arm free and struck out at whatever was holding me.

The creature hissed in its breath and seized both my wrists. “Abigail Williams!” It growled my name, and stepped into the light.

It was John Proctor.

I went limp, trembling, trying to still my heart. It was beating so fast I was sure he could hear it; sure it was trying to shatter my ribs and would soon fall out on the floor before us. If he had not been holding me up, I would have fallen. Mr. Proctor’s fingers were cold even through my dress, and he smelled like wheat and pine needles and the wind.

“Abigail Williams,” he said again, more gently, “what is it that brings you out here at this hour? Has something caused you fright?”

“No, sir,” I breathed. I had to swallow twice before I could continue. “No. I am a fool, and I…the dark, and…I…” Then I saw his face. “Oh, Mr. Proctor. I am sorry. Please, forgive me.” Under his left eye were five long red scratches, left by my nails when I struck out at him. I laid my hand on his cheek at his beard below the marks, tracing the rim of the last scratch with my thumb.

After a moment, he said, quietly, “It is already forgiven, girl.” Then, after a second ticked by, the world turned a hair, he let go of me so fast I almost fell, turning away to snatch a candle from the table, pausing for a moment away from me in the dark. I could not understand why he stood there, why he had moved so violently away, but when he returned, using a coal from the fire to light the candle, he gave me a faint smile. “Let me show you to your room.”

The room he showed me was, of course, the same his wife had pointed to earlier in the evening, next to theirs and across from the room the boys shared. It was small, and plain, but there was a thick warm quilt on the bed and a chair in the corner.

Mr. Proctor set the candle on the chair, and then turned to me. “It is not foolish to fear the dark, Abigail,” he said, almost more kindly than I could bear. No one had ever spoken to me that way; Tituba drew charms near my bed in the dust so I would not whimper in my sleep, but if my uncle would have known of my fear he would have stood silent and unmoving with scorn. Mr. Proctor turned to go, but I called after him.

I was not sure what I wanted to say, what words to use. “Mr. Proctor…are you quite well? What I mean to say, sir, is that it is late and you have only just come in.”

An expression I could not read crossed his face. Then it was gone, and a smile spread there instead, making the worry lines from around his eyes disappear. “I am well, Abigail. Indeed, I would feel quite safe leaving my house all night, with a wicked wildcat like you to guard my door."

"Wicked I may be, but you would have had me in another moment." I laughed, then went on, crossing the lines Salem had drawn for me, lines my uncle had drawn, thick and black across my mind. "\If it is not too bold, sir, you are very strong."

Mr. Proctor chuckled, soft and low in his throat. The candlelight threw strange shapes in his too-blue eyes. "If I had wanted a meek housekeeper, I would have chosen a girl who would faint when I came upon her in the night instead of trying to claw out my eyes. It is not too bold, Abigail."

There was a pause. The candle flickered, and one of the boys across the hall turned over in his sleep. Mr. Proctor looked away. "Goodnight, girl," he said, and was gone.

I fell asleep listening to the sounds of the Proctors' lowered voices in the next room, and the boys' snores. I let the candle burn out on its own.

⁷⁶⁷

My first weeks with the Proctors passed by slowly. The boys were not often around, either working with their father or out in town, going to the school. There were many days when, as I watched them scamper down the long hill and off towards the rooftops of Salem, that I wished I could follow, young again, free again, with hardly a thought in my head. It seemed there were too many thoughts in my mind lately, circling like angry flies.

For one, it seemed I could not please Mrs. Proctor. She hardly said a word, simply told me what to do, but she watched me whenever she was well enough to leave her room, pale eyes in her equally pale face scanning and measuring and dividing me into pieces. I was too tall, indecently so for a girl, and no matter how far I let out the hems of my skirts they always came up too short. I did not have pretty blond hair like Betty, and I was not as slim as my friend Mercy Lewis or as mild-mannered and quiet as Mary Warren. I could not walk like a lady, no matter how hard I tried. And I talked...I have always been one who loves to talk, tell stories, sing songs, and out of nervousness I often talk more than I should. I would spout out nonsense to Mrs. Proctor, words that could make no sense. I tripped and I dropped things, and she still stared.

At least with Mr. Proctor I was less likely to drop things, because I simply never seemed to pick them up. I could not think properly when he was around; it was as though I forgot who I was and could be someone else, or rather, be myself but unchained from the life I was bound to. He made me smile when I should have been serious; he listened to me and seemed to care for what I said....

I could not read the emptiness between the Proctors. Their silence wove a pattern I did not understand. Mrs. Proctor was sickly, she was ill, I knew. But I could not see why she refused to smile, why in the evenings when Mr. Proctor came inside the home to eat she did not nearly break with joy at just the sight of him. The pieces of wheat he brought her, woven together, were left untouched. His stories of the sun or the forest were hardly heard. It was as though she was far, far away from everything around her. I worried for her, and Mr. Proctor.

One day, in that early time, stands out most clear to me. It was afternoon, still warm in the late summer, and the sun seemed to hit everything and turn it golden after the early morning drizzle. The boys were at school, and Mrs. Proctor was asleep inside. I was making a stew for our supper, but the fire had burned out low, so walked over to the barn to get the axe to chop smaller pieces from the woodpile. I did not mind the work; I was happy to do it, happy to break the routine of my life, happy to try something different and I welcomed a challenge.

The horse was glad to see me, and nosed my pockets for anything I might have brought. I gave her a head of a carrot I had sliced, and her nose was velvet against my hand. I managed to find the axe, hidden near some hay, and carried it with me back to the house. Although I tried to avoid puddles from the earlier showers, I still soaked the edge of my skirts with mud. The air smelled fresh and clean, washed by the rain, and very sweet.

I dropped the axe next to the woodpile and began trying to pull out a log. They seemed to be all tangled, the rough bark on some of the pieces scratching my hands. Thinking there was no one to see, I took off my bonnet and rolled up my sleeves, lifting off a few pieces to try and find one I thought I could chop into what I needed. It was warm work, and soon half the woodpile lay scattered around me with my hair a wild mane down my back. I finally found a piece that didn't seem too thick, and I was dragging it over to the chopping block when...

"What's this, girl?"

It was Mr. Proctor.

I quickly jumped up and tried to shove my hair into some semblance of order. "Good afternoon, sir," I breathed, still a little winded from my work, giving up on my hair and switching to my sleeves.

"What are you about, Abigail? Building me another house, I suppose?" he smiled. His shirt was untucked and he, too, looked a mess, with dirt on his face from his work.

"Indeed sir, this one is for the winter," I laughed. "No, Mr. Proctor, I thought only to build up the fire to make our supper." I knelt down to look for my bonnet, getting even more dirt on my dress. I felt my cheeks turn pink.

A hand came into view near my head, holding my bonnet out. I took it, mortified, but the hand did not withdraw. "Let me help you up."

I took it, and Mr. Proctor drew me to my feet. His hand was rough but very gentle, and he bit his nails at the ends. "Thank you sir. I am sorry, I was just..."

"Do not think of it. Let me chop the wood for you." He picked up the axe and turned towards the piece of wood I had found.

"Wait!" I cried. Mr. Proctor looked back at me in surprise. I wished with all my heart I had said nothing, but my word hung on the air between us, so I continued. "Mr. Proctor---sir---do you suppose, I mean, please, might I do it?"

He blinked.

"I...I would like to chop it myself, if that's all right. I want..." I twisted my hands, avoided his eyes. What I wanted was foolish, impossible, but I needed to finish what I'd started, finish this to prove to myself it was something I could do. "I would like to finish."

He did not speak for a long moment, but when I looked up again he had held out the axe to me, handle first. When I took it, he stepped back, and watched me.

It took me longer than it should have, but the blade of the axe kept sticking in the wood. I must have looked half-wild, and my hands burned like fire, but I was afraid to look, afraid to see what condition they were in. Each minute felt like an hour, and Mr. Proctor did not say a word. When I finally had the wood I needed, I took the axe and leaned it against the block, and then began to bend down to put the rest of the wood away.

He caught my shoulder and held me up, eyes strange, as though he could not believe the sight of me. "Abigail...I beg you, let me do this much at least for you."

I nodded, panting a little from chopping. My shoulders would hate me in the morning..."I...I thank you, sir."

Mr. Proctor's hand slid down my arm to my palm, which he turned upwards. Blisters had risen below my fingers, and where a splinter had stabbed me, a trickled of blood ran to my wrist. "Girl," he said softly, incredulously, "you are a marvel."

His face was very close to mine. I found his eyes, and for a second neither of us moved. Then he dropped my hand and turned to the wood. "After supper I can help mend your hand."

Mr. Proctor was true to his word. After our stew was eaten that evening, the boys were asleep in their beds, and Mrs. Proctor, who had not left her room, was quiet, he sat beside me and tore one of his shirts into strips. He soaked them in a bowl of warm water and ran one of his wife's needles through the flame of a candle. The candle was the only decent light in the room; the fire had burned down to embers for the evening, my pile of wood stacked close beside it. Mr. Proctor took one of my hands in his.

"This will cause you pain." he said quietly, holding the needle near my hand. "But once I do this, you will heal."

I nodded. I was not quite prepared for the burn of the needle through the pockets on my skin, or for the time it took to dig out my splinter. By the time Mr. Proctor moved to my other hand, my back was stiff from holding still and my teeth were sore from being clenched.

"You are doing very well, Abby. One more hand now, it's all right," he soothed, smiling at me in the faint light. "Brave girl."

My left hand was worse than my right, but for this hand I felt no pain. All that was in my head was the idea that he had let me make a choice at the woodpile that day, that he had called me brave. That he had called me Abby. I left the cloth he had tied on my hands for longer than I had to; I was loath to untie the knots he left.

⁶⁶⁷

It was August, moving into autumn, when Mrs. Proctor truly turned poorly along with the turn in the seasons. She did not leave her room any longer, and would not let sun in through her windows. I brought her water and food and bathed her brow. I read to her from the Bible my uncle had given me, mostly Psalms and Proverbs, my favorites. She melted with her fever; it seemed, more vulnerable than I had ever known her to be. I tried, sometimes, to pretend I was her daughter, pretend she was the mother I had never known, but even in my imagination this did not seem credible. I could not see myself anywhere in her stiff standards for society, her thirst to uphold time-honored values, her blind and strict rules of conduct of herself and others, her coldness towards those she should have loved. Only when she was with her sons did I see any love within her, and even then, I could not change this love into love of me, even in my head.

Mrs. Proctor refused to see her husband. Excuses piled up like the harvest in the field, all as useless as could be. She did not wish to make him ill, she looked too immodest in her fever to admit him to her room, she was ashamed to be viewed in such a weak state...Mr. Proctor's eyes were more than I could bear at these excuses. Soon, he stopped asking to see her, already knowing the answer she would give. He slept by the hearth, or did not come inside at all.

It was one morning, in the midst of the harvest season, that I looked up from my reading of Isaiah, to see Mrs. Proctor asleep on her bed, long pale hair around her like a curtain, cheeks colorless. I softly put down the Bible and leaned towards her, resting a hand on her forehead. It was cooler than usual, a good sign, and she did not stir at my touch. I slipped quietly out of her room.

The boys were down at school, and the house was oddly quiet. The fire had died out, but the fall day was fairly warm, with an occasional cool breeze. The supper had been cooked, the house was swept and clean, and the vegetables were not quite ready for picking in the garden. I took off my apron, laid it on the table, and slipped out the door and into the gently waving wheat fields.

I walked along the edge of the wheat, close to the forest, which was dark and green and cool, careful to avoid being seen by whoever might be nearby. I had waited long enough to see the ocean. Still, I could not escape the feeling of nervousness that followed me, the oppressiveness of the trees as they leaned over me, as though they wished they could show the world where I was, where I should not be. Once I had cleared the slope of the hill, through the fields, it was easy work to find my way through the rough-barked giants, and from there, to the ocean.

It lay spread before me, the biggest thing I knew, gently hissing against the shore at the set of this tide. It was grey and blue and green and gigantic and steady. To me, the sight was like coming home. I closed my eyes to better hear the sound it made, slipped off my shoes to feel the warm sand beneath my feet, put a shell in a pocket of my dress for Betty. I walked down to the edge where the waves met the land. There was still that feeling, the feeling of guilt for leaving and fear of being caught, but it seemed so much less important now that I was here. I looked over my shoulder, once, to the darkness of the woods and the golden fields beyond. Then I unlaced my dress, threw it down on to the sand, and stampeded into the surf in just my underthings, laughing like a crazy creature.

I fell down into the water, completely submerged. The ocean held me up, sweetly cold and salty as memory. I broke the surface, gasping, salt and water loading down my shift, my hair. I lay back, almost drunken with joy, and closed my eyes, allowing myself to be held up by the thing I loved so much.

When I opened my eyes again, the sun had sunken low and red in the sky. I jerked up and looked around. Shadows stretched longer, and the ocean had climbed higher on the shore. It seemed impossible that so much time had passed...time. Oh no.

I clawed my way towards the sand, fighting back water, to seize my dress and my shoes, before tearing up the dune and into the forest, barefooted, half-clothed. My only thought was to get back to the house, get to the house before I was missed. Everything, even modesty, faded before this purpose. I scratched my feet on bushes and did not care. My hair blew out behind me...

I made it to the fields and did not slacken in pace. Even the wind could not catch me; every second was another that could lead to my dismissal. I came upon the house at last, breathing harder than I ever had in my life. I pulled up short at the door, chest heaving, and there, waiting, sitting at the table by the restoked fire, was John Proctor.

Water, dripping from my hair and my soaking transparent shift and my legs, pooled on the floor around my feet. I was gasping for air, too shocked, too terrified, to speak.

Mr. Proctor was twice as surprised as I. He leapt to his feet, eyes wide. He took a step towards me, then turned and sat down again. He did not seem to know what to say, what shape to arrange his features in, and he could not look away from me.

I did not mean to, and I know it was shameful, but a sob escaped my lips. Tears and ocean water, both salty, mingled on my cheeks. "Mr. Proctor," I gasped, "sir. Please. Send me away, but do not tell my uncle of this." I dropped my dress and my shoes with a clatter to clasp my hands imploringly, and I moved, trembling, closer to him. "Please sir. Beat me. Send me away. Do what you will, but please, tell him nothing. He would murder me, Mr. Proctor." I closed my eyes, trying to stop my tears, and knelt before him.

Time passed impossibly slowly. I must have knelt there, pleading, head bowed, in silence for years. Seasons passed with each tear.

"What..." Mr. Proctor started. I opened my eyes. He ran a hand through his hair, and still did not seem able to look anywhere other than where I was. "What were you about, girl?"

I answered too quickly, too desperately. "I was in the ocean, sir. Your wife...she was asleep, and my work was done and I, I love the ocean, sir, Mr. Proctor, I always have. I could not stay away a moment longer. I meant no harm, I..."

"The ocean," Mr. Proctor said quietly, as though he could not believe it.

"Yes sir. Please, my uncle---"

Here he interrupted me. "Abigail Williams, you should be sent home in scorn. You should be beaten." He reached out a hand towards my face and I jerked away, knowing he meant to hit me. "Abby..." he said softly, called me that name again. This time, when he reached for me, I did not move, and he did not hit me as I had feared, only covered my cheek with his hand, buried his fingers in my wet hair. "You are wicked yet, are you not?" he laughed, quietly, and ran his thumb underneath my eye, light as could be, to smooth away a tear. "I would not beat you, Abby. I will not send you away, and I will say nothing to your uncle." I was shaking, opened my mouth to thank him, but he gently covered my lips with his fingers. "It is no sin to love something, girl. It cannot be." It was a question and an answer. I could not move away, I was held captive by his eyes, the exact shade of color I had swum in that day. It did not matter that I was practically naked, that I was freezing, that I should have been dismissed at that moment.

Nothing else in the world mattered to me.

Mr. Proctor's hand slid down my face to my neck to my shoulder, stroking a strand of my hair before he leaned away from me. "Elizabeth sleeps yet. Go put on some dry things and we will eat."

His eyes did not move from me even as I walked away. I could not tell what he had seen, while I was sobbing, soaking, and indecent mess. But whatever it was he saw, his words rang in my head. Meanings flashed through my mind like falling leaves, different colors and shades, but I could not decipher what he meant by the phrase he chose, and what I most hoped for, I also feared above all things.

⁵⁶⁷

The harvest, Mr. Proctor told me, looked to be good this year. The autumn wind already spoke of a frozen winter, and I soon brought in the vegetables from the garden. I used the carrots and squash and potatoes and tomatoes along with the meat Mr. Proctor brought in to try new recipes, new dishes, all of which Mr. Proctor swore he loved.

I sat on the doorstep one day, peeling apples from the trees near the barn, to make his favorite pie. The crisp red skins spiraled away beneath my knife, and I sang under my breath as I worked.

"Hello, Abigail," Mr. Proctor interrupted my tune, sitting down beside me and taking a peel to eat from my apron.

"Good afternoon sir," I smiled. "What brings you to the house at this hour?"

Mr. Proctor leaned close to my ear, as though sharing a secret. "I," he said, "sensed your pie." He laughed, and I joined him. He casually leaned back against the porch, resting his head against my knee. I felt happy beyond reason, and he did not move away. "What say you, Abby? Would you like to accompany me into Salem?"

"Why, sir?" I asked, surprised. The Proctors did not attend church any longer, and although he was too polite to say anything to me, I knew Mr. Proctor loathed my uncle almost as much as my uncle hated him. I could not complain; I prayed by myself, as I cooked or I swept or I sewed. God was something I felt in my heart, not the great and terrible being my uncle spoke of. I had been sent out of prayer twice for laughing, at my uncle's large words, the wrathful cadence of his voice, his shaking finger of retribution. It was at my uncle, and not God, at whom I laughed, and it was my uncle, not God, who had slapped me hard enough to bring tears to my eyes after his sermons when I had let a giggle escape my lips.

"I thought to ask Tom Martin if he would grind my wheat in exchange for a share. It is no good to me in grain, and I must harvest soon." He need not have asked me. Already my thoughts were of Tituba, of Betty, of my dearest friend Mercy Lewis...but Mr. Proctor mistook my silence, and looked up from my knee, eyes blindingly blue. "Come with me, Abby. You can see your family."

I nodded, smiling. "Of course, Mr. Proctor. Whatever you ask of me I will do."

And he went to fetch the wagon as I left the half-peeled apple in the bowl.

The forest was its yearly explosion of fire, burnt orange and auburn red and gold and yellow, and Mr. Proctor whistled between his teeth as he guided the horse. "Who do you most look forward to seeing?"

I thought for a moment. "It sounds silly, I know," I said, "but I sorely miss Tituba. She was...she is one of my closest companions, and she said something upon my leaving that I wish to ask her about further." Mr. Proctor shook his head. "What is it?" I asked.

"You, girl," he said at last, after turning his tongue around in his mouth once or twice, "are unlike any other person I have met in all my years. You fight, and do not faint, you swim wild in the ocean and are the friend of slaves. There is nothing about you I can expect. Is everything about you a secret, a surprise?"

"Yes, indeed," I teased, "But you, Mr. Proctor, might know one of my secrets if you desire."

He considered his question. "What is your favorite color?"

"Blue, like the ocean" I answered, then added, because I could not help myself, "and other things, as well." I continued, quickly, so that he would not notice what it was I had said, "And yours, Mr. Proctor?"

"Brown," he said softly.

And then the town of Salem grew up before us.

Smoke plumes curled like dirty clouds out of chimneys, and gardens, turned bleak and empty by the chill, were nevertheless well-tended. Everything was in order, as it should be, and only a few people moved to and fro on the road. My friend Mercy passed by our wagon and waved before hurrying off towards the church with new candles. She had gone to work for a family herself, and neither of us could spare much more than a glace, a warm smile, to speak of our affection. Mr. Proctor pulled up to the center of the town and tied the horse's reins to the gallows that had never been used in the memory of even the oldest citizen of Salem, and he helped me out of the wagon. "Will you come with me, Abby, or see your family first?"

"I will meet you back here, if that is well," I said, and he nodded and strode away towards Tom Martin's, while I followed the road further down where it curved to my uncle's house.

I waited a moment outside, looking up at the cold dark windows and the tall black door. Inside, I could just see the kitchen fire, see the curtains I had sewn hanging in the windows. I took a breath, then climbed the steps and knocked softly.

The door swung open, and Tituba, out of breath from some chore or another, began, "Good afternoon ma'am, Reverend is..." She went no further, seeing my face, and instead shrieked and threw her arms around me, in a manner not fitting a slave like herself or a servant like me. Neither of us cared. "Miz Abigail!"

"Tituba!" Her dress smelled like cinnamon and soap. "How are you?"

She let me go at last; smiling so hard she nearly broke. "Fine, Miz, Tituba always fine. Oh, look at you standing out there in the cold! Get yourself inside, and I'll call Miz Betty." Tituba sat me down before the fire, straightening chairs and smoothing out a corner of the rug. "And how you, Miz?"

"I'm well, Tituba," I said, but she looked closely into my face.

"Something not the same about you."

She knew me too well, and I feared she saw what it was that had changed, the new thing I had discovered and wanted more than words could say. "I am the same. Tell me a story, Tituba. What has been happening while I've been away?"

Tituba pursed her lips, but she did not mention a change in me again. My request for a story was an old one; ever since I had come to my uncle's house I had asked Tituba for stories. She taught me the sign she and her mother had used for 'story' when she was too young to speak, back in Barbados where it was warmer and wetter and greener and she said the very air felt like memory and spice on the tongue. It was a hand across the eyes, and when I used it, she could not help but smile. "Nothing much has changed here, Miz. Mr. Parris is preaching as ever, and the town the same. Miz Betty is learning in school, sums and things. She clever, that girl. Oh, let me call her to you." Tituba stood up and turned to the stairs. "Miz Betty! Miz Betty, look who's down here!"

Betty appeared on the stairs, and then flew into my arms, laughing. "Abigail!"

I hugged her close, ran my fingers through her soft blonde hair. "Hello, Betty. I've brought you a surprise." I offered her the seashell from my apron pocket. "Look, it's from the ocean."

Betty squealed and took the shell, tracing the curling pattern. "Are you back to stay, Abigail?" She asked.

"No," I explained, taking her hand. "I only came to visit, I---"

"Abigail Williams!" Betty jumped, and I stood up so quickly I nearly toppled my chair. Tituba reached across and gripped my shoulder. It was my uncle. He looked well, white hair neatly kept and tied at his neck with a ribbon, and his suit and coat were brushed and as straight as a pin. He was as concerned as ever with the opinions of others, characterized by the nervous twitch he had in his right shoulder, as though he was forever turning to look behind him to see what people thought as he walked away.

"Uncle, hello---" I started.

He interrupted me. "Why are you not with the Proctors, where I sent you?"

"Mr. Proctor came in town to speak to Tom Martin, sir. I came with him to visit you."

"And why," he went on, as though he had not heard, "have I not seen you at church? It is a terrible sin, Abigail, to not keep the Sabbath day holy."

"I went where you sent me," I said softly. "The Proctors do not attend church."

"Are you cheeky with me, girl?" My uncle's voice went quieter.

"No sir, I thought only to bring you my greatest respects, and see Betty and---"

"Betty," my uncle ordered, "go to your room and read your Bible." Betty quickly obeyed, looking over her shoulder once, back at me. She held the seashell close to her heart, and then she was gone. After her door clicked shut, he continued. "You must show some respect for your elders, girl, and do as you are told! You must not stray away from duty, from tradition! I like not to see you under my roof with a cheeky tongue in your mouth! And as to the lie about John Proctor sending you here..."

The injustice of this made me speak. "It is no lie, uncle, he did send me here, he knew I missed you all..."

"Abigail..."

"God's truth, uncle!" I did not mean to scream, but my feelings have ever been on the surface, right below my skin, and I could not contain myself. My brash words fell like rain, and although I could see how much every letter, every phrase caused my uncle pain, I did not stop; I could not. "If you would just listen to me! I have things to say as well, you know, things in which I believe! I have lived here, worked here, served you, loved you, and I come back to see you and you treat me as though I was some dog, a beast you rode once. THAT is a sin, uncle, not missing church on the Sabbath day!"

My uncle took a step towards me and struck me across my cheek with the back of his hand. The noise rung through the air, sharp as the sting. Tituba found my hand and held it hard. "I will not stand for this, Abigail!" he hissed. "Now, return to your employer, and leave us in peace." He turned on his heel and marched off towards the kitchen, heels of his boots clacking against the ground like shots from a gun. His hands were shaking, out of anger, regret, or fear I did not know.

Tituba clutched my hand as I turned to go out of the door. "Miz Abigail..."

"Don't, Tituba," I insisted, blinking back angry tears. "I am well. I will see you again soon."

Releasing her fingers was harder than anything I had ever done. But I walked out the door, head held high. I walked down the street and into the wagon, unhurried. And I sat like a stone as I waited for Mr. Proctor.

He came back soon, smiling broadly, and climbed in beside me, tugging the reins to lead the horse out of town. Houses, people, colors passed by without registering in my head. Sounds could not form words. The only real sensation was the leftover sting from my uncle's slap.

"What do you suppose, Abigail?"

"Pardon me, sir," I managed.

"Tom Martin said he would grind my wheat for a share! We will have a good harvest this year, no mistake." When I had no reaction, said nothing, he glanced at me, and then looked hard. "Abby. Is all well?"

At his concerned words I finally cried, burying my face in my apron.

"Abby!" he gasped, pulling up on the reins to stop the horse, turning to me. He lifted my head, took my hands. "Abby, what happened?"

"Oh Mr. Proctor," I sobbed, "all I wanted was to see them. I didn't mean to leave your side, I didn't mean to talk back, I, I..." I crumpled against his shoulder, not caring that I was just his servant, not caring much for anything at all. "I...the things I said, but he never loved me, not as he should have...I am his sister's daughter, Mr. Proctor, and he sees nothing, nothing when he looks at me."

He wrapped his arms around me, held me close, safe, to him, and his hand lightly traced the red mark on my cheek. "Your uncle struck you." It was not a question, so I did not need to answer. "Oh Abby...don't cry, it's all right. Come now, hush..." Mr. Proctor did not move, did not let me go until my tears ceased, and then he offered me his handkerchief. We rode back to the farmhouse in silence as I snuffled, but it was not until we had returned, until the horse was put away and the fire burning high, until we were inside and warm, that he let go of my hand.

⁷⁵⁵

Harvest-time dawned at the Proctors' home. Mrs. Proctor could really and truly not get out of her bed. It was not an illness as I knew one to be, and the town doctor said much the same. Mrs. Proctor was simply frail, and if she rested and took care, she would soon be well, he said. But those words did not seem possible. It was as though she saw nothing to live for, and her skin became more transparent by the day, her hair lighter, as though she was already gone, as though she was fading away. The news of the wheat-grinding did little to raise her spirits, and Mr. Proctor had stopped asking after her. Every now and again he would mention her, but it was as though the sounds that made up her name were a habit, not as though he meant anything by them.

I was reading aloud to Mrs. Proctor, Proverbs this time, one harvest day. "The LORD abhors dishonest scales, but accurate weights are his delight. When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom. The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity. Wealth is worthless in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death. The righteousness of the blameless makes a straight way for them, but the wicked are brought down by their own wickedness. The righteousness of the upright delivers them, but the unfaithful are trapped by evil desires." I paused in my reading; unable to completely stifle a yawn. The words could not get through to me; I could not concentrate on their meanings. When I look back now, I wish more than I can say that I had paid more attention to the book in my hands.

"Abigail," Mrs. Proctor said hoarsely, coughing. "Abigail..."

"Yes, ma'am?"

She was spread out on her pillows rather like she was being crucified; arms stretched forth, hair around her like a fountain, nearly as white as her blankets. She looked over at me, and for a moment, I did not see the ice in her veins. She was simply a woman, very ill, lying before me; she could have been a sister or an aunt of mine. "Abigail, you are a very beautiful girl." When she took my hand, her skin burned with her fever. I did not know what to say. "I wish I were as brave as you, as strong." Mrs. Proctor released my fingers, laid back and closed her eyes, and I could almost see the chill returning to her personality. "You may go; my husband---" she stopped, as though the title caused her pain, "---John will want your help with the harvest while the boys are at school."

I left the Bible behind me and quit the room.

Mrs. Proctor's behavior hung heavy on my mind; I could not understand what she had meant. I was neither brave nor strong. And I could not be beautiful. I told myself it was her fever, it was nothing at all. I untied my apron and went out and into the fields to find Mr. Proctor.

He was not difficult to come across. The wheat, rich and golden, lay scattered in bundles and in the clearing of where had had cut was Mr. Proctor, wielding a long curved scythe. I called his name, and he turned and smiled, wiping sweat off of his brow with an arm. "Abby, hello. Coming to claw out my other eye?"

"Of course sir. I am a fighter." I laughed. "Would you have me help you?"

Mr. Proctor looked away from me, off to the horizon, then back. "Stack the wheat bundles for me."

And so I did.

We worked for a while in silence, busy, but then Mr. Proctor started whistling and I sang along to his tune as best I could. The day was almost unallowably sunny, bright and gold and streaked with light. Everything, from the wheat to my employer, seemed to shine with an inner radiance. It was cool, but because of the sun it was not cold, and I was happy, so happy, the happiest I can remember being, even now.

I picked up a stray piece of wheat and threw it at Mr. Proctor after he laughed at my singing. He tossed a piece back at me, and it quickly became a war. He put down his scythe and we soon had wheat in our hair, our clothes. I stood up from tying a bundle to run from the fistfuls he chucked at me, and he chased me down. I was laughing, there was sun everywhere, inside, outside...Mr. Proctor caught my hand, spun me around, laughing as well, and then quite suddenly he kissed me, full on the mouth.

Time stopped. The earth ceased to spin beneath me; the very sunbeams froze in the second when his lips were against mine. I should have moved away, should have screamed. There were many things I should have done. But what I did was to wrap my arms around his neck and remain there, frozen, caught by his kiss.

“Pa!” A voice came from below the hill, one of Mr. Proctor’s sons. He drew his face away from mine. I could not see what was in his eyes, but their color was different, darker, deeper blue than I had seen them before. He released me completely, and turned towards the voice.

“Yes, son?”

I could not tell what had happened, what they were saying. I followed them back to the house as though I was a dead thing, moving but not seeing. I served supper, blank-eyed. I could not answer questions that were directed at me. It was as though life around me was a veil, and I could only see it through the misty gauze. The only real things to me were the memory of Mr. Proctor’s lips, and his occasional glance towards me, eyes still that dark, dark blue.

⁶⁷⁶

As I lay I my bed that night I could not sleep. I was like a leaf upon a wave, tossing and turning. I was too hot, then too cold, but more than anything I was inescapably restless. No thought could settle in my head for more than a moment before it was gone, replaced by another. At last, I slid out from under the covers, slipping a dress on over my shift, and walked out of the house towards the barn, trying to settle my mind.

The grass was long and cool against my legs, but the barn was welcomingly warm. It smelled of hay, sweet and musty, and in one of the stalls the horse stood sleepily, occasionally flicking her tail. I stepped softly over to her, stroking her nose. She opened her eyes blearily, nickering. Her face was warm under my hands.

“Abigail?”

I did not turn around. I already knew who it was; I had expected him. Mr. Proctor came up behind me, gently laid his hands on my waist. “Abby.”

“Good evening, Mr. Proctor,” I said, softly.

He turned me around, so I could see him in the half-light, a shape far taller than me. “Call me John, please, Abby.”

“What brings you out here?” I asked, as though I did not know.

“You, of course.” He laughed, softly, desperately, and took one of my hands in both of his. “Abigail Williams, I…you are so different from any girl, from anyone I have ever known. I…” His grip shifted, he pulled me closer. “Whatever evil may come of this, I cannot say. But if I do not tell you…I must tell you. I am in love with you, Abby. I have been from the moment you tried to blind me that night, thinking I was a monster. I love your strength, and your bravery, and your disobedience. I love your eyes, and your face and your hair, and the way you speak boldly to me when you should be silent. I…I love all of you, Abby. And I, I want, I hope for you to love me in return.”

My heart was so full I thought I would fall to pieces. I was shaking, but then, he was too. “Mr. Proctor…John,” I said shyly. “I have always loved you. You have no need to hope further; I am yours.”

John kissed me, and if he had not been holding me up in his arms, I would have fallen over. "Are you wicked still, Abigail Williams?" he murmured to me once when we came up for air. "Would you faint when I come upon you in the night?" I laughed so hard I fell down, and John fell with me, stroking my hair back from my face, until he could find my lips again. I remember, very vividly, still, the smell of hay, and the feel of the earth turning below me, as though it were counting out the beatings of our entwined hearts, throughout the night.

Hours, or what could have been years, later, I opened my eyes. John was sleeping beside me, breathing gentle in his dreams. I shivered, because I could not help it. The night had suddenly turned chill, as though with my waking reality had crashed in. I was a sinner. Darkness pressed in against me. I had committed adultery with my employer. I…I…

“Are you cold, Abby? Don't be afeared of the dark; I am here.” John murmured sleepily beside me, wrapping his arms around me and pulling me close to him, resting his head on my shoulder. Poison air hissed out of my lungs, my heart stilled. This could not be a sin. This was a blessing, it had to be…

“John?” I said softly.

He rumbled in reply, breath warm on my skin.

“Don’t leave me.”

“Never,” he sighed softly, sleepily. At first I thought for sure he did not know what he was promising, but then... then he took his fingers and crossed my heart to seal his words.

⁶⁵⁶

The next few days were like something out of a dream. I lived for nothing else, for no one else, outside of John Proctor. I could barely eat, did not sleep. He was all I needed.

Guilt had its way of pressing in, now and again. I could no longer sleep in my bed; the quilt sewn by Mrs. Proctor weighed too heavily down on me, and I could not meet her eyes when I read to her.

But every second spent with John made up for whatever I might have felt, whatever it was I might have done wrong. He soothed away my worries and held me as though I would break with his touch.

After one harvest day, while we were resting among the cut wheat, my head against his chest, I spoke a great fear of mine to the clear blue sky, a fear I could not shake free. “John, am I…do you think I am, I mean…a whore?”

He sat up, nearly knocking my head from his chest, and leaned over to see my eyes. “Abby. What a thing to say! Why would you ask me that?”

“It’s just,” I bit my lip. “You, you are married and I…and you, we…”

“Abby,” John stared seriously into my eyes, his irises the shade of the sky behind his head, “the day I call you a whore is the day I say that you are too good for me, that I love you too deeply and have nothing to offer you. The day I call you a whore is the day you must move on to a better man than I.”

“Such a person does not exist,” I laughed. And he kissed me.

But it was not to last.

⁸⁸⁷

It was that night, after supper, our happiness ended. Mrs. Proctor came out of her room, though to this day I do not know why. It might have been fate, or chance, or she might have sensed what exactly had been happening as she faded away, as even her bones became transparent. I know not. But she did leave her room, and she saw John, and she saw me...and she saw our embrace. “Abigail Williams!” she hissed, words a whisper, so as not to wake the boys, though her voice broke.

John and I pulled apart, surprised. A sick feeling welled up in my stomach, like oil, like acid. I do not remember breathing. I saw her face, and it frightened me. A mixture of fear, of envy, of sadness, of anger mingled there. Her pale cold eyes flashed, and she came upon me, dragging me out of the house.

“Elizabeth,” John said, taking her arm, trying to pull her claw-like hands off of me.

But all she saw was me. “You! You, girl, with my husband, with...” She could not finish. I saw the feelings that flashed on her face, and they were like razors against my heart. I had not meant to harm her. I had not meant for anything, but Lord save me, I loved...I still do love...her husband.

“Elizabeth!” John pulled her away, held her back so she could not reach me as I staggered to my feet. My legs were shaking so badly I could hardly stand. It was as though someone had yanked a rug out from under me, forced me to see the truth of a situation which was just an impossible fancy.

“Get out of my home, and stay away from me and my family!” Mrs. Proctor was sobbing now, falling apart. “Do you hear me, girl?”

I stood, rooted to the ground, as John pulled his wife…(just to think the words hurt me)…his wife towards the house, sat her down in a chair. He ran back to the door as she sat, shuddering and crying. “Abby,” he said, soft and low, quickly. “Listen to me. You must go. It is not safe for you here.” He looked over his shoulder, saw his wife’s face buried in her apron. I could see the agony on his face; it mirrored my own. He seized my wrist, kissed my palm. “I love you Abby. I always will.”

Then, slowly, he turned back to the house. It was as though every step was a burden for him, and before he shut the door, he paused, looked back at me, and his eyes were far too bright to be tearless. Darkness fell around me, as John managed to close the door, trembling as he was. And my heart, shriveled to ashes, crumbled in my chest, and pieces of my world fell apart at my feet. I turned, as though in a dream. The earth was in flames beneath my feet, and though screams tore at my throat I could not open my mouth. I started walking the long road to Salem, back to my uncle’s house. I did not look back.

⁵⁷⁷

It is here where my story joins with all you know, or think you know, of me. I returned to my uncle's house in the dead of night. He did not strike me. He did not punish me. He did not question me. The expression in my eyes kept him silent. It was the kindest thing he ever did for me, to hold his tongue.

Rumors spread, of course, but I heard nothing of them. I made the motions of living but felt nothing. My dreams were interupted with the eyes of John. And every morning, Tituba held my hair, sang to me softly, as I threw up the contents of my stomach, stroked away my tears over the fullness in my lower stomach. She knew, and I knew, that I had not returned to my uncle's alone. There was someone else with me this time.

I taught the town girls how to dance, passed on my disobedience and scorn of society and everything in it. I became their leader. And when we were caught, when Betty fell sick with fear, I had a plan. I struck her to bring her out of her hysterics, and though she sobbed, I had not hit her hard. It was fear that caused her tears, and I would damn myself to Hell if I let anything happen to the girls, to Tituba, to Betty. They were all I cared for in the world, all I had left, now. So I gave Tituba the sign for "story" and she told me uncle a wild tale of witchcraft and the Devil.

Betty and I shrieked names, names of those in league with Satan. This, too, was carefully done. I did not allow the girls to accuse anyone who had not commited a crime. I had become intimately acquainted with the sins of Salem when I returned from the Proctors', and I accused those I knew had done wrong. The hysteria did not come from us. It was others of the town, the judges even, others who accused the innocent. But even then, with my careful planning, I did not realize what lay ahead. I thought only of prison, not of a thick rough rope.

John came to see me, once, at my uncle's. He told me lies, which I knew by the color of his eyes, by how he still used my name and called me wicked. I saw how he looked at me, and I knew the truth.

I did not realize what it was I had done to protect my girls, not even when Rebecca Nurse was accused, not even when I accused Mrs. Proctor. It was not until both of them were in jail, until the first person hung, that I realized what had been done. It was not I, and it was not Mercy Lewis or Betty or Tituba or any other girl who had started to destroy Salem. It was Salem that sought to destroy itself.

I used every trick I knew to try and gain the release of innocent prisoners, particularly Mrs. Proctor, but to no avail. Hysteria spread like a disease. John Proctor came down to the courthouse to try and free his wife, although all my efforts had failed, and he saw the truth of it, saw what had happened outside of my control. He knew the look in my eyes, the strain in my speech, like he knew his own heart. And when he called me a whore in front of the judges, it was not, as they thought, to condemn me. No, John told me with that word that he loved me then, because he saw the looser dresses I wore, the weight I tried to hide, and he knew what grew inside of me. He condemned himself, betting on the idea that his wife would lie for him, in order to save me. All his speeches were for naught, all his fine words. It was for me John Proctor went to the gallows. It was for hysteria, revenge, and vengence that innocent people died in Salem.

My friend Mercy Lewis and I stole away from my uncle's one night. Tituba insisted on staying, in the hopes that with her help, the cries of witchcraft might be settled, and to look after Betty.

We boarded a ship, and sailed down the coast to a new settlement. It was on new land, under a new name, where I bore my son, the spitting image of his father, with eyes like the ocean. Tituba's letters spoke of the safety of Mrs. Proctor, the well-being of her sons, the slow calming of the town. Mrs. Proctor married not long after her husband's death; she had loved John, but not as I had loved him. I never married again, never loved another man outside of my son. To make money to feed him, to clothe him, I walked the streets at night, selling the only thing I had to offer, until at last I became a teacher in a far-away coast town. They never knew my real name there, and Mercy was the only one there who ever knew the truth of the rumors of the Salem Witch Trials, of the supposed "hysteria" of teenage girls. Only she knew what lurked already in the hearts of those of Salem.

All I have done in my life has been done out of love, for John, for my friends, for my son. Love is the reason I live while my lover is long dead. I will take responsibility for the mistakes and the wreckage that lies behind me. It is my fault the people in Salem discovered revenge, discovered what power was. But know this, gentle reader: I did not seek to cause harm. I do not seek that to this day. I waken every morning to the sounds of the waves against the shore, and I pray still, for forgiveness, for strength. I teach my pupils the value of love; whatever else the world tells them, I try to ensure that they will remember this at least. My son, called Jack, short for the name he keeps from his father, grows taller every year. God save me from my sins, and God keep you safe, reader.

My name is Abigail Williams, and I have always loved the ocean.

⁶⁷⁷

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)
~e.e. cummings